For a band that works hard and gets better over time, the hope is that each new release might be the one to propel them to a wider spotlight, get them long overdue recognition for their efforts. When first I heard the Dent in 2002 (a well-produced five-song EP entitled Neurotica), I was impressed with their pleasant softer pop sounds and talents, and the promise it represented. This was a band that knew their pop/rock history and approached the contemporary music scene with intelligence and care.
Not so very long after, they’re back with a full-length release that builds on the kind of well-crafted sounds heard on that EP, and extends it further in terms of confidence, musical scope and variety. In a just world, Farewell should be the Dent’s hello to wide scale acceptance by the very listeners who have made radio hits from such groups as Matchbox 20, Evan & Jaron, Fastball, or Vertical Horizon. This diverse 11 song offering heralds a true arrival from this hard-working trio.
Hailing from Fairfield, Connecticut, the Dent first united in the late ’80s, when they all shared the common collective interest of seventh grade. Mitchell Linker, Jeffrey Norberg, and D. Rauh (then Dan Rowe) first had a brief stint as a cover band, then began writing music. Over the years, all three have become prolific songwriters, both individually and collectively.
Two things impress you immediately about Farewell: the clean production (the band’s press release proclaims it the most “major-label” sounding indie ever made) and the lovely emotional range of tenor Mitchell Linker. The production by D. Rauh (with some production help from engineer/mixing pros Alex Perialas and Peter Moshay) is as touted, as professional as most major-label releases. And Linker’s lead vocals seem more confident on this new material, displaying charm as well as range, inviting comparisons with Michael Stipe that reach far beyond the commonality of shaved heads.
“Look Up” is the infectious mid-tempo opener helmed by Linker’s plaintive “now I know better” vocals, as he revisits one he had loved when “he had nowhere else to go” and questions “Can anyone look up to you now”.
More in the realm of power pop is the curiosity of a catchy song known as “Fantastic”. This homage to Elton John trades on his inspiration, as well as his latter-day penchant of faxing praise to bands he likes, and a fantasy about how The Dent can become his favorite band. This clever track name-checks other performers, and includes snippets from notable Elton John songs/lyrics.
“End of The World” (arguably the strongest song from last year’s EP) re-appears on the new one, bringing its update of the familiar David Gates/Bread sounds to a new audience. The Jeff Norberg guitars and subtle harmonies are arranged ideally in this tale of a relationship’s end wherein things have just run their course.
“Second Home” is a beautiful keyboard-driven ballad (with some wonderful violin) that works well thanks largely to the guiding vocals from Linker. This sweet ballad is dedicated to the memory of D. Rauh’s grandfather.
Proof that this band knows what has come before is found in the lyrics of “Never Found”. This is The Dent as avid music consumers, reading reviewers’ claims and buying up more music in search of the ideal (Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Ramones ,and Billy Joel all are mentioned or alluded to here). We get a little more vocal variety from Norberg and Rauh, along with Linker. Apparently, reviewers have let them down before — and who hasn’t known that kind of disappointment — high expectations followed by mediocre sounds.
“Help The Dead” is an effective ballad of self-pity and loathing that features cello accompaniment: “My love must be so unbearable / I must make you so full of hate / My love must feel like a waste of time / And I must hold you back from being great”.
“Without Fail” is a quieter acoustic sort of ballad, all about heartache and reminisces of lost love. “Lost Alone” is yet another slower tempo track, a confession of not being ready or able to deal with being alone.
The catchy title track muses intelligently on how the comforts of an occasional joke preserve a relationship and helps one deal with the daily battle of getting older and more “weary of hope”: “It can’t get worse and can’t be treated / I appraise my malaise only I know what’s needed / Then in a flash, somehow you promise with a laugh”.
There’s no detachment from reality in what the Dent chooses to ponder. Witness “Say It”, wherein the band contemplates the questions of “what comes next” should the long-pursued idea of music success somehow fail. They keep it all refreshingly in perspective: “Either I am very brave or I am not that smart / You’ve always portrayed me as a renegade / But my money’s goin’ on the second part”.
“New York” is the closer, a simple piano ballad (with a very appealing extended guitar lead from Jeffrey Norberg), homage to the bright lights and fame that are so close by, frightening and yet ever so appealing.
At a time when the very future of the band was uncertain, the Dent have turned around and given us the best music of their career to date. Linker’s vocals have never been better, and the well-crafted melodies are ripe for radio exposure. With the impressively clean and professional production values, one can only hope for the best.
Farewell, while weighted a bit toward the slower ballads, still provides a good amount of musical diversity. If you like your power pop on the side of the soft and sweet, the Dent is for you. Let’s hope this new release is the one to get them the wider audience they deserve: they have the talent, now they just need the luck.